October 27, 2008

I think the one lesson I have learned is that there is no substitute for paying attention. –Diane Sawyer, television reporter for ABC, co-anchor for Good Morning America and former correspondent for 60 Minutes. Ranked by Forbes as one of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.


You might cringe at the thoughts of your parents telling you to shut up and pay attention; I can remember my mother, in one of her calmer modes, repeating over and over again: “do what you are told.” As a kid this was certainly one of those mantras that I blew right through as a hyper-active lunatic who was more interested in the mass destruction of anything I could get my hands on. Furthermore, even though I did not know it, the root of this craziness was the inbred wiring of an entrepreneur, who these days, still does not like to be told what to do! BUT…the truth be told, it is pure disintegration that waits if we do not learn to take the direction given to us by those that have already traveled on the path that we so desire. In my capacity as a real estate coach and the father of five hyper active kids (P.S. you reap what you sow!), I have come to realize the true wisdom in my mother’s mantra. Run into enough brick walls and have enough personal and business challenges and you’ll eventually start to listen to the words of those better traveled!


You see there are many reasons why we don’t do what we are told to do…some good and some not so good. Primarily, most of us do not take the actions we are instructed to follow simply because we are fearful and don’t have enough humility to tell our teachers so. Instead we’ll yes the teacher, the coach, the boss, our parents, our spouses to death only to fall quietly into the painful abyss of fear. You might be thinking how you could possibly say, “I understand what you want me to do and I clearly see the merits, but I’m afraid.” The thought of even saying “I’m afraid” conjures up visions of the cowardly lion…what an awful thing to be compared to…so why not just say nothing, take no action, blow off the teacher, get a mediocre result and deal with the less painful consequences of dealing with it post the event and blaming everything but you. ABSURD! Why do you think we are living in such mediocrity? Why do you think so many of you are at the mercy of others? Why do you think so many people are unhappy and turn to alcohol and drugs to make the pain of living in fear go away? The other reason some of us don’t do what we are told is plain and simply insecurity! Our ego, the self defense mechanism of our insecurity, has to be fed like a wild animal! We’ll think to ourselves, “sure I know that teacher is smart, has already achieved what I want…BUT…I’m smart and I’m going to get it my own way! I’m going to show the world that I am a genius and that will fill my ego up and I’ll feel completely secure!” Remember the words of the richest man who ever lived, King Solomon…”there is nothing new under the sun”…So Stop Trying To Re-invent The Wheel! I’m not trying to dumb you down; I’m simply saying that all the raw ingredients are right in front of you including people that have already done what you want to do. Maybe even better…maybe somebody has already created the foundation for something that you want to take even further! No need to go back to zero, just pick up where they left off…past successes are the cornerstones for future innovations!


So what is the bottom line? The successes of the past leave us a wonderful roadmap for the future! All you have to do is be cognizant that it is fear and insecurity that are preventing you from really getting what you want. You need to first figure out what it is that you do indeed really want to accomplish! Without knowing what you want then it’s hard to even begin to ask for help. But once you do know, then hurry out into the world and find somebody already doing it well and study them. Pay them whatever it takes to have a mind transfusion. Read books on them, their techniques and most importantly their struggles and challenges. You’ll soon realize that the majority of successful people have been knocked down many times and have found a way to get up. Most of those people are humbled by those beatings and are usually more than willing to tell you how to avoid them and even mentor you through the quagmires that you’ll face! But the key ingredient is to do EXACTLY what they tell you to do! DO NOT DEVIATE! That would be like following a pre-charted sailing course from Boston to London and deciding to change it even one degree…I’m not sure where you’d end up but they certainly would not be speaking with an English accent. Just follow the chart and that way if you fail you can return to the teacher and say that you “checked all the boxes” as I like to say. With all boxes checked it’s much easier to zero in on what went wrong. In other words, you can eliminate unnecessary personal shortcomings and expedite your success. Believe me when I tell you that I guarantee you that often time you will surprise yourself and realize your personal power had been simply waiting for you to give it a real chance. So the next time a teacher, mentor, or somebody who has simply done what you would like to do speaks, Just Do What You Are Told!


Be The Glue!

October 20, 2008

I listen with attention to the judgment of all men; but so far as I can remember, I have followed none but my own. – Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance.


There are many people in all aspects of life that stand out as the true, natural leaders. They are those that the pack seem to rally around so easily and garner strength from. A leader has the uncanny ability to draw action and results from people where there seemed to previously been none. You recognize these people in sports, politics, entertainment, business and even within families…some even fly under the radar and go largely unnoticed. But what happens when change or even tragedy strikes and the leader suddenly goes away. You know that feeling intimately I’m sure because we have all experienced it. The disappearance of that special strong personality leaves a void that conjures up the desperate image of us being left in a cold desert wind, watching the dust and the tumble weeds whip by; that feeling that makes us aware of a huge void that we had been blinded from seeing because we hid comfortably behind that leader prior to their exit! The event has lead to the destruction of families, companies and even countries seemingly over night…almost like in an instant everything becomes unglued!


So why is it that seemingly so few leaders have such a pivotal role? Why does it have to be that one little symbolic finger removed from the dike results in a completely destructive chain of events? Well the simple answer is because the rest of us are hiding under the bed hoping that someone else will step up and make everything all right again…if we just hold on to the edge of the abyss some super hero dressed like a cartoon character will come to the rescue and put our world back on it’s axis. In times of discomfort and distress we get on edge and angry…how could our leaders have let us down?! How could they have made the decisions they made and left us in the lurch? How could they have put our financial and physical futures in the balance…shame on them!! WHAT? Are you serious? Who ever told you that these leaders were your servants? What contract did you ever sign that said everything would always be all right? That your parents would always be there to scratch your back when you had an itch? That your CEO had your retirement clearly in the forefront of his thoughts and efforts? That your friends would have your back no matter what the circumstance? That a change in your political leaders would fix all your woes? See the problem is that we are always waiting on someone else to make it right! But what about you? What are you responsible for?


You see the irony in freedom is that it can breed contempt. Given no restrictions in a free world there will always be the hungry and strong that step up, lead and achieve. They will be those that understand that risk is usually over stated and that there is no imminent life or death challenge, rather massive opportunity. But stricken by an over reaction to fear, the masses will line up behind these leaders, first accepting them as their protectors but shortly there after as there object of criticism and ultimately seeking to bring them down. Yet, what really happens when the strong fade away? What’s left? The huddled masses of sheople, who now exposed, run screaming for help and seething that life just isn’t fair! So do something about it! Stop looking to lean so heavily on someone else. Step up and use your own strength and stop whining that you don’t have any! You do, but you simply allow your overly sensitive fight or flight mechanism to paralyze you while you suck your thumb waiting for your super hero. The truth of the challenging circumstance is that it’s opportunity begging you to take action. I’m not talking about saving the world…I’m just talking about making a positive impact in anything you do! Step up for your siblings when you lose a parent! Step up for your company when the CEO leaves! Step up for your local government when a local legend retires! Step up for a stranger in distress! Stop complaining about how cruel the world is when your leader is gone…It’s your calling: BE THE GLUE AND COUNT ON YOU!

Suddenly Aware!

October 13, 2008

It really lasted the whole game, because I was really untouchable, unstoppable that game. But it was heightened on one particular play, and that was the longest run where everything completely slowed down. My awareness was so keen, it was so heightened, it was really amazing. – Marcus Allen, National Football League hall of fame member.


There is no question that many athletes have at times achieved a heightened sense of awareness, in complete control of their physical and psychological beings, experiencing a laser focus that allowed them to make the tiniest of distinctions and excel at record breaking levels. So how do they get there? Why can’t we all achieve that sharp focus? Well the real answer is that we can and we do, but we simply have to engage more than we do. We have already awakened to the trap of becoming spellbound zombies and encouraged that action is the best teacher…the result of which is a greater sense of personal awareness. This week I had the great opportunity to spend some individual one on one time with my sales team members and I became very aware of many misconceptions that existed amongst what I was thinking about them and them me. I also became more aware than ever that my words can be more powerful than I had ever expected in both positive and negative ways. I realized that what I often thought was a harmless jab meant to encourage was often interpreted as a put down…the exact opposite effect!


This experience had me even more alertly on the lookout for the opportunity to use my new found awareness and words more judiciously, and as serendipity would dictate, life delivered my next chance sooner than later. Driving home in a taxi with some friends, I took the front seat with a chiseled faced, Russian driver with a giant, gap toothed smile named Alex! This guy could not have been type cast more perfectly for the consummate KGB officer…and of course I had to joke with him and asked him why the KGB had sent him to spy on me. But after a mutual chuckle, I jumped on the opportunity and returned to the conversation more aware and probed into his history…what an incredible journey he took me on from there. Not only had he grown up in Russian, but he was quite familiar with the KGB! His father had a dream that he and his family would move to the United States and applied for exit visas…only to be interrogated by an actual KGB official who declared that the whole family, other than his father could leave. Shortly after the decision, his father suffered a heart attack and died. Alex, his brother and mother, with their father’s ashes in tow headed out on their journey to live the dream! Alex concluded his story by telling me about his wife and sons who were now living his father’s dream. I was so aware of his appreciation for his father that I said I’m sure one of your boys is named after your father…to which he pointed to his youngest.


Why would I talk about this in a thinking tool about awareness! Because I was laser focused that there was much more to this man than a couple of jokes…there was inspiration and appreciation for that which we all take for granted! There was also the pain in his life that he was now more aware of his deep gratitude for his father some 20 years after his death…longing for the lost opportunity to tell his father how much he appreciated and loved him for what he had done to inspire them! You see life is filled with amazing opportunities, but we are in such a coma that we don’t even realize that they are right in front of us…our focus is usually sharpened through the stories of others. It’s still hard to believe we live in such fear that we can’t even fall into a conversation with each other. We get our ideas spoon fed to us through the media…TV, radio, the internet…and forget to ask questions and do our own research. We’re not aware of how life really is because we fail to engage. So during this year of an election in the United States, it’s a great time to become more aware. Don’t just vote because you like the way someone sounds or what party they are affiliated with….educate yourself! Become aware of the real issues by studying them. Become aware of how you feel and take the appropriate action…watch how much better you’ll feel. But more importantly become more aware of the people that are in your life from family to strangers and engage them now before they become a lost opportunity! So the next time you feel yourself going through the motions, it’s a good indication that it’s time to engage, learn and become awakened and aware!


October 6, 2008

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor. – Anne Lamott, political activist, progressive and author.


This week after showing several people how to take action I was told…”I know but I’m a perfectionist!” This made me really think about why anybody would even say that. I will give these people credit because I find them to be quite intelligent and capable of making solid choices, however, this retort just made no sense. Actually, I found it to be an automatic defense mechanism to avoid action steps that appeared to these people as uncomfortable! What’s worse is that I could actually see and hear the pain associated with this burden of perfectionism…in other words, they were using this concept as their own personal whipping post! Castigating themselves for not getting things completely perfect or worse, not even taking action until they reached some ultimate level of understanding and knowledge. See the problem is that many people, especially intelligent, deep thinkers will strategize about anything and everything that could go wrong before taking action. While I certainly believe in the power of proper preparation there is no such thing as being ‘perfectly’ prepared for anything!


Think about it…I am a huge believer in the concept of infinite distinctions in all aspects of life…hence the tag line in the blog headline: “little distinctions, big changes.” So if you will indulge me and agree that we can always make more distinctions, then how can the concept of perfectionism be valid? As a matter of fact, while I was looking for a pertinent quote for this thinking tool, most of the quotes about “perfectionism” were negative! The obvious reason for that is because it becomes a reason, or worse, an excuse for not taking action! And the further irony is that without action, ultimately you learn nothing but theory, and a lot of that is based on erroneous images you create that are more fear based than anything else. Again, why do you think a professional athlete is at a higher level than other equally physically talented athletes? I will argue that it’s because the pros have made further ‘tiny’ distinctions because they have taken more action steps…more action based practice. How about actors, politicians, teachers, doctors? It does not matter…the ones that take more action make more distinctions, learn more and conclusively are more successful.


So the point of this all is to understand that perfectionism is another mind gremlin. It’s the ‘smart’ part of the brain that tells you why things could go wrong so you better think about it more…until you’re paralyzed and can’t take action. Now I know that you have fear, we all do, it’s a survival mechanism so we don’t act ridiculously and keeps us from taking action in situations where clearly our lives are in danger! Maybe you’re afraid to ask that person on a date…but what’s the worst thing that happens…you hear no and… don’t die…then you think about what you could have done better…then you realize that you sounded silly and know you could have done better…so you try again and the next time it works…little distinctions that taught you well and got you what you really wanted! Why can’t you do that in business and ask for the deal? See the problem is that we have become too fragile. Rejection is healthy…it makes you stronger and more determined…but if you never take a chance you end up stuck like a zombie popping pills just to get through the day. So stop over thinking everything and telling yourself that a smart perfectionist would just keep preparing, because the truth is that a great achiever will prepare to a point and then take a blind leap of faith and let action be the ultimate teacher!


Spellbound Zombie?

September 29, 2008

Yeah, I know I’m ugly…I said to a bartender, make me a Zombie, he said, God already beat me to it. – Rodney Dangerfield, comedian.


Better hold on tight because I’m very inspired this week…The other day I had the wonderful privilege of getting stuck in commuter traffic headed to Boston. To put it as nicely as I’m able, I can’t think of anything worse…but this time was different. I seem to be looking for the deeper meaning in events rather than take them simply at face value and wow did this one hit me! There exists the strange phenomenon that some drivers simply get in the passing lane and meander forward oblivious of the fact that there is traffic behind them chomping at the bit to get by. Trust me that this is not the simple observation of a potential road rager, rather the observation of someone asking…why? Looking down the road it was quite clear that there was plenty of room to simply slide over to the slow lane and continue at the tortoise’s pace, but instead the hares continued to zip by on the inside tossing nasty glances the way of the slow poke. But, when I went by and threw my compulsory glance, I noticed something even more frightening….a Zombie! I wonder if they even remember an instant of the trip…how about years of their lives gone by! I’m not talking the thing of Halloween folklore, rather a real live human zombie living amongst us, and as the day wore on I noticed that they were everywhere! Sitting in a hospital waiting room, I heard one staff member say to the other: “are you havin a good day” to which the other replied “so far, so good” to which the first concluded “me too…it could be worse”…pure Zombie speak! These people were so zoned out that they had fallen into a pattern of communicating that made no sense…how could “so good” get worse if it’s not bad in the first place!


I’m not sure why, but I realized that so many people are simply going through the motions of life like rats in a maze, hoping that there is a light at the end of the tunnel but never realizing that they can simply climb the wall and get out! Stopped at a red light in downtown Boston, I saw more Zombies getting off the train and following the maze up to their perches in some obscure corner of some gray building forgetting how to smile and simply say hello…down right angry at the world! How many of these people I thought must have to pop the latest anti-depressant just to make the steps forward…reluctant to face this grim existence! Sure go ahead and legalize drugs so that we can fall more easily into a stupor! How many people already count the hours until the proverbial whistle blows so they can run down to the local pub or liquor store to anesthetize themselves into a painless oblivion! Can you believe that I read the local story of two firehouse veterans getting in a shoving match because one had mentioned taking a “vacation,” subsequently the only vacation he got to take was a permanent one as he collapsed and died of a heart attack! What a colossal waste of human potential! What a waste of human productivity! The greatest human crime of all is that of the Zombie master! How does this happen? Are we really that enslaved so that we can’t break his spell! I’m not suggesting anarchy and just up and quitting, but how about looking at the great things that you might be able to accomplish today! It’s not about your imagined dragons…they don’t exist! They are the creatures given life by the Zombie master!


So before this goes too far into the dark side, please take notice that there is hope! My week concluded with the very proof I was looking for. I had the occasion to listen to the testimonial of seven young drug addicts and how they had broken free from the Zombie state. I’m talking about some hard core stories that might sound like the equivalent of living in a demilitarized zone that would make most of us quiver. So how did they do it…their group leader made it very clear…help somebody! This group had been founded in 1958 by a man inspired by the beating death of a handicapped youth by gang members simply to steal his shoes! But instead of raging about revenge, this guy said “go to New York and help those boys”, and just that they did. I wish you all could have been with me to see a small sample of these kids singing off key their theme of victory over the Zombie state! Yes, maybe they might have a relapse, maybe they won’t even make it…but they were fighting because someone simply took the time to tell them that they could. So take action right now and look to help someone get over their own Zombie curse and it just might help you get out of yours!


P.S. The group is called Teen Challenge International

Don’t Trip Over Your Tongue!

September 22, 2008

Few friendships would remain, if each knew what his friend said of him when he wasn’t there. – Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), French mathematician, physicist and religious philosopher, whose work strongly influenced the development of modern economics and social science.


I’m not sure why this comes to me with the surprise of an epiphany, but I’m amazed at how often we can’t stop ourselves from bad mouthing each other. There seems to be almost an addiction level response that when given the opportunity to throw somebody under the proverbial bus, we don’t even hesitate a nanosecond! As an emotional reactor most of my life, I suppose I never gave much thought to it because if I knew when someone had done it to me I simply went into attack mode, sought them out and unleashed a pointed verbal counter attack. I’ve never had a problem mincing my words so I’m sure I left many people fractured in my wake. Call it whatever you will but perhaps it’s maturity that has finally provided my personal smelling salts! I have noticed that from my kids, to friends, to business associates most people feel the need to verbally denigrate somebody else in order to feel better about themselves! Think about how many times you too have been sucked into this vortex of negativity…especially when someone else does something well that awakens the green eyed monster of jealousy!


But think about it…did you really feel any better about yourself after you were done with your verbal assault? Maybe a group of you got together for some fun and only ended up bashing someone that was not there. How about during a divorce…ever notice how both spouses even go as low as disparaging each other to the children involved? Can you believe it, there is now actually a syndrome name for it: Parental Alienation Syndrome! How about in the work environment where it happens constantly? Coworkers putting each other down just to get ahead or maintain a threatened status quo! It just all seems ridiculous, childish and a complete waste of time and productivity. So what’s the real problem? I’m not exactly sure, but I will tell you to a certain extent it’s laziness and lack of humility! Think about it, if you stopped bad mouthing achievers and instead used that same energy to figure out what you love to do and focused on working hard at it, you all of a sudden would not seem to care so much about what other people are doing and feel good about yourself. When you feel good about yourself, you tend to say positive things about other people…it’s contagious! Also remember as I wrote before that we have the commonality of humanity and by definition that means we are all not perfect…we make a lot of mistakes! So be humble about that and don’t use weaknesses to exploit others because it’s just as easy for them to do the same!


So we need to stop this madness! We need to teach our kids to focus on what they do best and make them feel good about that! Maybe kids aren’t wired to be the next baseball star, the next gold medalist or even the next rocket scientist…but they are special at something so let’s start there! Why? Because I’m sure you can remember being made fun of in school or you were the bully doing it…neither way made you feel good…did it? If you don’t have kids then watch your own words…you can break the chain. In my experience I have always quietly held the humble in high regard. They seem to just go to work at whatever it is they do and fly under the radar. You know those people too, they just never seem to be able to utter a cross word about anybody. They see the positive in everything and even when they don’t, they keep their mouths shut! So the next time you go for a walk with your tongue, say something nice about somebody instead of tripping over it, because the truth be told…nobody trusts a bad mouth!

A Time To Walk!

September 15, 2008

It’s a question of spreading the available energy, aerobic and anaerobic, evenly over four minutes. If you run one part too fast you pay a price. If you run another part more slowly your overall time is slower. – Roger Bannister, English athlete and the first to run the mile in under four minutes.


There are certainly times that we must go all out with very clear goals in mind in order to feel productive and raise the level of bodily endorphins to incite the visceral feeling of happiness, but the quote from Roger Bannister tells the whole story…that if you go too hard during that journey you pay a price, often times very significant. We have all had that time in our lives when we pushed so hard that something seemed to snap. It might have resulted in a divorce, missing valuable time with our kids, talking ourselves out of a great job or even worse, doing some physical and psychological damage to ourselves. As a highly driven person, I know this challenge all too well. There have been several times in my life that I thought I was supposed to conquer the world in a half an hour only to leave myself in a highly frustrated and exhausted place. It’s funny how life just delivers the same message until we finally get it and fall into a more reasonable pace!


Maybe it’s just a tragic comedy that we are destined to be like ants, those of us who work at a frenetic pace eventually fizzle out well before our time and those that are just plain old lazy get walked on by the whole colony! So where does that put you? Like I have said many times, I believe happiness comes from focusing on your strengths and leveraging them to do what you do best. Give it all you have and be aggressive….BUT…that does not mean at breakneck speed all the time. The other day I decided to take a walk…not my typical run…along the beach and what I found was actually amazing. Even though I had hustled this same path for many years, I had never noticed this quaint little house tucked away amongst the pines, and even better, the sun was setting on the ocean and gave me a whole different perspective than I had when sweating and toiling through a more rigorous workout. Then the same thing happened two more times; first I noticed a guy on a bike riding through my neighborhood and thought what a different place he must see than I do as I whip out of my driveway focused on getting where I need to be next, second I was forced to a standstill on a major highway that I have traveled for years only to notice how beautiful the woods are.


So I have to make my point before you think I’ve become inspired to write some poetry about nature! It’s okay to slow down and pace yourself…life is a marathon! Better yet when you do, it offers the chance to make little distinctions about anything! You might just notice how hard your wife works with your kids, how forgiving your parents have always been with your shortcomings, how patient your boss has been with your learning curve or how loyal your best employees have been! How about the opportunity to review your work and look for the weak spots that might bring the whole castle down? Life is loaded with amazing details that are impossible to see if we are always moving too fast. Yes there is a great benefit to pushing yourself and being productive, but don’t forget that the tortoise actually won the race at the end of the story! So every once in a while take a walk in the tall grass without your shoes…it might just make you a better runner!